While other city clubs have closed in defeat, the Omaha Press Club marks its 42nd anniversary on the 22nd floor of the First National Center in Downtown Omaha.
Does the club stay open because of the spectacular view from windows stretching to the ceiling? The glowing copper fireplace? The food?
Executive Director Steve Villamonte explains the club’s durability, even through a recession: “There is something going on all the time. The club offers events from lunch-and-learn opportunities to wine dinners to holiday buffets.”
Retired WOWT newscaster Gary Kerr and his committee hold monthly educational events. Sports forums at noon feature such topics as Nebraska football and Creighton basketball.
Each year, journalists are inducted into the OPC Hall of Fame. Their names are engraved on a plaque in the club’s Hall of History. Among the first inducted in 2008 were Omaha Star publisher Mildred Brown (read more on Brown), NBC-TV’s Floyd Kalber, and legendary radio sportscaster Lyell Bremser.
The OPC Foundation’s annual Omaha Press Club Show, which raises funds for journalism scholarships, will be held next year on April 3.
The space’s premier event is the ‘Face on the Barroom Floor’ dinner. When the club’s restaurant opened in 1971, members decided to celebrate the people who give journalists something to write about. Walls are now covered with caricature drawings of newsmakers’ faces.
The satirical artwork by artist Jim Horan (full disclosure…yes, the author is Jim’s wife, and she also serves on the organization’s board) is presented in fun as friends roast the subject. A zinger directed to Larry the Cable Guy is a sample of the teasing that honorees endure: “I’m happy to say fame has not gone to his [Larry’s] head, only to his waistline.”
The most recent honoree was Omaha Magazine publisher Todd Lemke.
The first caricature was that of fun-loving Omaha Mayor Gene Leahy. Nebraska football coach Bob Devaney followed him in 1972. Also that year, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew dropped by the club to see his ‘Face.’
Agnew had a love-hate relationship with the press, whom he once famously described as “nattering nabobs of negativism.” So it was with tongues in cheek that Omaha Press Club officers named a private room at the club the “Spiro Agnew Room.”
Among other well-known ‘Faces’ hanging on the club’s walls are Bob Gibson, Chuck Hagel, Tom Osborne, and Johnny Carson.
Horan said that his drawing of Warren Buffett is his favorite because of the billionaire’s unruly hair: “Warren looked at his caricature the night he roasted Walter Scott at a ‘Face’ event and quipped, ‘I’ve got to rethink that 25 cent tip for my barber.’”
The disappearance of Buffett’s ‘Face on the Barroom Floor’ became national news in 2008. The New York Times and Forbes magazine were among media that published stories about the missing artwork. Omaha heaved a sigh of relief when the drawing was finally found.
On Sept. 9, the Lauritzen Room was dedicated to honor the First National Bank family that helped open the club 42 years ago.
“Without their continuing support,” Villamonte says, “it would have been difficult for us to succeed.”